Friday 14 January 2011

Anorexia - getting support from the school

Back in November 2009 after (teenage anorexia sufferer) Ben started behaving very strangely at school, I decided it was time to 'come clean' and tell school about the anoriexia...

I got in touch with the Head of Year 11 (the 5th form) and explained that we believed that Ben was developing an eating disorder and to be aware that he may start to behave unusually. Mr H said that the PE staff had mentioned that Ben had lost an awful lot of weight recently. From that moment on, the school was incredibly supportive and, well over one year on, they still are.

What's more, our CAMHS team actually went into school back in November to talk to a group of 25 or so of Ben's friends. They explained all about eating disorders, how it had affected Ben and answered questions.

It was an extremely useful session. Ben's friendship group has always been superb, but this session was a watershed in Ben's 'rehabilitation' into the school social scene.

I took Ben out of school in March 2010, mainly because he was spending more time at home than at school (due to extreme school phobia) and we needed to get some kind of structure in place. Ben is very academic and eager to learn, so it was important for him to continue with his studies, especially with GCSEs looking in June.

Between then and the exams, we developed a workable routine where we picked up work once a week and dropped other work off for marking. Other work was sent home by email - and now and again we'd have a 'catch up' meeting with staff to check Ben was still on track.

The school allowed him to sit his GCSEs in private, separate from everyone else, mainly because we didn't want to risk (a) Ben freaking out and ruining his own chances in the exam, and (b) freaking out his peers and ruining theirs!

Amazingly, Ben got excellent GCSE results.

School has continued to be flexible and supportive this year as Ben started back at school in the Lower Sixth Form. When he started to find full days difficult, he tried attending mornings only, coming back home for lunch (which was much more manageable than crossing our fingers and hoping he'd eat enough calories at school) and reverting back to the email-work-home routine. He also picked a couple of friends from each subject group who would be happy to photocopy their notes for him in his absence.

Some days Ben doesn't make it into school, because of the insomnia (which you can read about here).On these occasions, I email the fantastic Head of Sixth Form who arranges for staff to send work home, so Ben doesn't get behind. And he's managed to keep up brilliantly.

The point I'm making is that it's vital to let school know what's going on, very early in the diagnosis - and also to 'educate' them on eating disorders as much as you can, because - as you'll probably know from experience - precious little is known about these much misunderstood conditions.

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